First verse of the 14th chapter of the Second Book of Kings*: "And he said, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a smooth man.’ And he said, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a smooth man.’"
Perhaps, I might say the same thing in a different way by quoting you those words of that grand old poet, W.E. Henley**, who said: "When that one great scorer(1) comes to mark against your name, it matters not (2) who won or lost, but how you played the game, but how you played the game …" Words, very meaningful and significant for us here together tonight. Words we might do very much worse than to (3) consider. And I use this word consider advisedly (4) , because I’m using it, you see in its original Greek sense of con-sider (5) , of putting oneself in the way of thinking about … to put ourselves in the way of thinking about what we ought to be putting ourselves in the way of thinking about.
As I was on my way here tonight, I arrived at the station, and by an oversight(6) I happened to go out by the way one is supposed to come in; and as I was going out, an employee of the railway company hailed (7) me. "Hey, Jack", he shouted, "where do you think you are going?" That, at any rate, was the gist (8) of what he said. But, you know, I was grateful to him; because, you see, he put me in mind of the kind of question I felt I ought to be asking you here tonight. Where do you think you are going?
Very many years ago, when I was as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a friend of mine and there was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. And so, early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up, higher and higher and higher. Until the valley lay very small below us and the mists of the evening began to come down and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit we sat down to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountains. And as we watched, my friend very suddenly and violently vomited(9) !
Some of us think life’s a bit like that, don’t we? But it isn’t. Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin(10) of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key. And, I wonder, how many of you here tonight have wasted years of your lives looking behind the kitchen dressers (11) of this life for that key. I know I have. Others think they’ve found that key, don’t they? They roll back the lid of the sardine tin of life, they reveal the sardines, the riches of life, therein (12) , and they get them out, they enjoy them. But, you know, there’s always a little bit in the corner you can’t get out. I wonder, is there a little bit in the corner of your life? I know there is in mine.
And so now, I draw to a close. I want you, when you go out into the world, in times of trouble, and sorrow, and hopelessness, and despair, amid the hurly-burly(13) of modern life, if ever you’re tempted to say "Stuff this for a lark" (14) ; I want you, at such times, to cast your minds back to (15) the words of my first text to you tonight: "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a smooth man."
*A little note of warning: Alan Bennett doesn’t seem to be so well-versed in the Bible, after all. The quotation which serves as starting point for his rambling "sermon" [But my brother Esau …], which is an original quotation from the "Authorized Version" (1611), is not taken from the 14th chapter of the Second Book of Kings, but from Genesis 27, 11 [in German: 1. Buch Mose, Kapitel 11]. So now you know!
**William Ernest Henley (1839 – 1903), English poet, critic and editor. There is plenty of information on W.E. Henley on the internet, e.g. "poet’s corner": www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/henley01.html
(1)scorer: the person who keeps the record (= score) of points, goals etc. scored in a game or competition: (etwa) "Punktezähler"; (2) it matters not: archaic (no "to do" paraphrase); (3) we might do very much worse than: (etwa) wir täten gut daran, wenn wir; (4) advisedly: mit voller Absicht; (5) to consider: of course not from Greek, but from Latin "considerare" = betrachten; (6) oversight: Versehen [ cf. by mistake ↔ on purpose]; (7) to hail: zurufen, anrufen, zuwinken, herbeiwinken [cf. loudhailer: Megaphon, "Flüstertüte"]; (8) gist: der rote Faden, das Wesentliche; (9) to vomit: sich übergeben, "kotzen"; [other words: to puke, to barf (AmE, informal), to be sick]; (10) tin (GB) ↔ can (US) [cf. "Cannery Row", John Steinbeck]; (11) kitchen dresser: Anrichte; (12) therein (lit): darin; (13) hurly-burly: Getümmel, Rummel [cf. helter-skelter, hurdy-gurdy, honky-tonk etc.]; (14) stuff this for a lark (rude!): cf. Götz von Berlichingen’s notorious expletive : " L. m. A."; (15) to cast one’s mind back to: sich erinnern an;
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